A collection of pandemic related stories from alumni about the changes in church life.
“Building Churches during Corona” by Armstrong Cheggeh, (’83), Nicholasville, Kentucky
Early on, my wife who works for Hospice, our son, and I all came down with COVID. We coughed and quarantined together for four weeks. Later I got COVID a second time from a visiting Kenyan friend. I needed to cancel ministry trips planned for April and August because of travel complications, but during this time I helped raise $10,000 to build a church in the village of Korogwe in Tanzania. It was my way of getting back at this Coronavirus!
Then during a mission trip from mid-November to mid-December 2020, I travelled to Tanzania for meetings and also to dedicate the new church building in Korogwe. I also ministered in Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. The six mandatory COVID tests I endured as I travelled from country to country were frustrating, but I was thrilled to deal a big blow to the enemy and his kingdom even while the pandemic raged. The message I have for RBC friends is that we should not be so afraid of COVID that we stop doing the work the Lord has called us to do. In the coming months I am planning ministry travel to Kenya, India, Rwanda, Burundi, and Congo. Pray that the Lord will use us to touch souls for his Kingdom!
“Pandemic Care for a Norwegian Parish” by April Maja Almaas (’95), Trondheim, Norway
I serve as the senior priest in a more-than-5,500-member Church of Norway parish. In addition to leading our Sunday services, I am responsible for holding funerals, baptisms, and weddings. The COVID marathon has affected all aspects of parish life. Weddings and baptisms have had to be postponed and funerals held with only very few guests physically present. It’s been a steep learning curve to dive so abruptly into the digital world. In an effort to gather “together” in fellowship, each from our own homes, we have filmed services, concerts, hymns, devotions, Ignatian prayer, and an ethical debate. It has been inspiring to see how God has touched people in new ways despite the extremely difficult circumstances. “Do not fear, only believe.” Mark 5: 36b
“This Too Shall Pass” by Kimberly Kauffman (’87), Saginaw, Michigan
I work as a secretary at a law firm, and we have a COVID checklist that has to be answered daily. We wear masks when we are in “common areas” but are a bit lax. Mid-July of last year, I came down with a fever, so couldn’t go to work. Even though I tested negative for COVID my fever hung on for four months! Finally, the fever of unknown origin went away, and I was able to return to work.
My church is outside a small town, and COVID didn’t seem to have much of an effect on our congregation until December and January when many came down with COVID-like symptoms. Some were tested, some were not. Some were very careful, some were not. Probably about half of the congregation has had COVID. I’ve still not tested positive for COVID or the antibodies, and I’ve had numerous tests. I’ve been concerned about how isolating COVID has been — especially for the elderly who often don’t have the benefit of modern technology like Zoom or Face Time.
Certainly COVID has been quite a nuisance, but better than the plagues and pandemics of the past where little treatment was available. I often think “this too shall pass,” and eventually we’ll get back to normal. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
– 2 Corinthians 4:17-18
“My Joy Increased” by Matt Funk (’94), Mifflinburg, Pa.
During the early days of the pandemic, life really slowed down for us. I saw the value of a slower pace of life. My joy increased. I was enjoying the simple things of life — evenings at home with my family, time spent in the backyard, coffee in the morning with my wife without my mind racing ahead to the pressures of an overcrowded day. I learned I’d simply been too busy and needed to make some adjustments in life.
“Screens: Poor Substitute for Touch and Presence” by Jeremy Lehman, (’08,’09,’11), Chambersburg, Pa.
Sometime in March of last year we discontinued our in-person services at Pond Bank. One of my elders and I began shooting short videos on Saturday mornings to take the place of our normal Sunday morning gatherings. We soon realized that what we thought was going to be a quick return to normal after “flattening the curve” was going to be a longer ordeal. Little did we realize just how long! Even so, it became apparent that a 15 minute inspirational thought recorded on an iPad was not going to be a sufficient replacement for Sunday mornings. Within a few weeks I was back to preaching a full length message from the front of our sanctuary as it was live-streamed to our congregation. The feeling I had preaching to empty chairs was unnerving and surreal. When Sabrina and I walked into our empty building it felt like something was terribly wrong.
One Sunday morning a lady from church asked if she could come and sit in the back while I preached. She had just lost a younger sister in an unexpected tragedy, and wanted to be near someone else, just to feel like she was a part of something she recognized again. That Sunday morning there were about four or five people scattered around our sanctuary as I preached my best to a few that just couldn’t handle the loneliness anymore.
A feeling of disconnectedness began to trouble me and soon our leadership team decided to reopen our regular weekly service with a few adjustments. The first Sunday we were back together again, there was a palpable sense of relief and excitement as we fellowshipped together.
A year later, I am still trying to come to grips with what has changed in our broken world. One thing I am more certain of than ever is that screens and hardware are poor substitutes for touch and presence. May the Lord continue to pour out grace, strength, and wisdom to each of us as we minister to a world that increasingly realizes its need for a touch from God’s people and the presence of his Spirit.
“Crises in People’s Lives Don’t Stop!” by Gary Miller (’69,’72,’79,’80), Goshen, Indiana
In my half-time job at Maple City Chapel I look after an auto repair ministry that uses volunteers and repairs cars for single moms from a four-county area. Most of the moms come to us through programs such as Abuse Shelter, Family Services, or the YWCA. When the pandemic hit I shut the program down so we could maintain proper social distancing. But the desperate needs remained and increased. How do you tell a mother of three (one with severe autism) who has stage 3 cancer and drives herself to her own chemo treatments, “No, sorry, we can’t fix your car because there’s a pandemic.” The crises in people’s lives didn’t stop, but rather increased. After being closed for only two weeks we went back to work as usual and remained open all year.
We don’t ask for money, but contributions to the work remained generously high throughout the year. We do an annual fund raiser, and this year it garnered nearly three times the normal amount. People from the community donate cars to us which we repair and give away to needy families. This year the amount of donated cars was nearly double that of previous years.
We’ve been doing this auto repair work for 17 years now. At age 70 the work is becoming more challenging for me, and in January both my wife Anna and I came down with COVID. Yet we consistently hear words like, “I thought God had forgotten about me, but now I know He cares.”
Now if I could just get my sense of taste and smell back!
“The Church Comes Through” by Lester Diller (’75,’77,’78), Lewisburg, Pa.
Rosedale was a place of deep relationships for me. Now after 44 years of ministry, COVID has challenged me to look for new ways of deepening my relationships in the church. What a blessing it’s been this past year to see the church be the church, to respond to inner promptings of the Holy Spirit, and provide new platforms of connection and community.
February 2021 was a hard month. I tested positive for COVID and like dominoes, one by one, our household, which also includes my wife Ardis’ 89-and 91-year-old parents, all fell ill. The discussions we’d had about what we wanted for treatment were now relevant. After a week we all showed signs ranging from loss of taste and smell to respiratory infections. For two weeks Ardis and I rotated nightly being up with her father, who was on hospice, until he passed.
I found a new place of surrender in prayer; waiting has never been my strength. The church poured out kindness by actions and words. In new ways I began to experience the church walking with me. They encouraged me to take time to recover; people shared their medical training and knowledge; meals showed up on our deck table; people were praying with us and for us. What beautiful evidence that God can and does walk with us through those hard times. He shows up with inner peace and in the caring relationships of brothers and sisters in the church.
“A Wake-up Call” by Colette Summy (’99), Wagener, S.C.
COVID was a rude wake-up call for me! I’d been taking our church for granted. (Not saying that church in PJs isn’t fun for a season!) Church was something that was always there, until it wasn’t. I realized what an important part of my life I’d been doing out of habit. Sometimes I even complained. Now I realize afresh just how much it actually means to come together and worship, to encourage each other, to sing praises, and the list goes on! We as Christians have a unique opportunity to offer hope during a time when people are extra afraid. We don’t need to fear the unknown or even death because we know God is in control. Truly we as a church are here “for such a time as this!”
“The Presence of the Pastor” by Sheila Copenhaver (’05,’06), Atmore, Alabama
While our church’s doors were closed in the spring of 2020, our family was privileged to enjoy the presence of the pastor—my husband Blaine. Each Friday Blaine’s sermon was videoed and later uploaded online. During this season, there was no last-minute sermon writing crunch on Saturday. Instead, Saturdays were full of completing house projects, tending a garden, and playing outside with our four active boys. To top it off, Sunday mornings were slow and relaxing without a schedule to meet. There was no frantic feeding frenzy or wrangling boys into undesired church clothing. When watching church online, we could even “pause the preacher” for a bathroom break! I’m incredibly grateful that our church is meeting in person again. However, I treasure the memories of the “presence of the pastor” during the pandemic (and I know he does too)!